Friday, February 22

Retiree Guide to JAX

Neptune Beach sunrise
Jacksonville just made the Top 10 in some list of places to retire. The only problem is that the city isn't really in the Top 1000 for people who are actually looking to retire, so maybe it's time New Jax Witty works on putting together a local guide for folks who no longer have to work.






Connections

I'm not some kind of Jacksonville lifer who knows all the ins and outs of life in Northeast Florida. You'll want to identify some of these people, maybe who attend your church of choice, to help with some of the important decisions, like where to get your dog groomed. I'll keep this more basic so that it helps you understand why Jacksonville made the list of top places to retire and whether or not it's right for you. The difference in Jacksonville compared to an expensive retirement community is that you won't have a network of people organizing activities and actively supporting your forever spring break, so you'll have to figure out what works for you and how to achieve retirement bliss on your own.


Climate

This isn't Miami. Three months over 90, and a lot of 80s as highs. Perfect weather in late fall and early spring. A winter that will freeze (just barely) a dozen times or so overnight. Unless you're from California, you'll recognize the curve. It was the same kind of deal when our family moved from Milwaukee to Kansas City. If you can stand three months in the 90s or plan on snowbirding, it's a great climate. If you want to shovel a few times but get fewer months of cold, then try the line from KC over to Virginia. A friend of ours retired to Tennessee from Jax because he wanted all four seasons. I personally like it better here than in Wisconsin for a good portion of the year, especially in winter. And if you're retired with a condo, you won't have to mow your grass in the summer, which is pretty much as bad as the snowblowing I had to do in Milwaukee.


Cost

Northeast Florida is cheaper than Southeast Florida for retiring, at least when it comes to housing. And especially if we’re talking Jacksonville itself as opposed to St. Johns County. You can get a place in Nocatee or World Golf Village, but then you’re paying for all the fanciness without being in The Villages or Miami. Jacksonville’s neighborhoods are diverse enough that you can find whatever it is you want, whether it’s a waterfront property or a large lot for your RV or a condo. That said, it’s still one of the youngest cities in the state (there’s a large military presence), so there will be kids around. If you’re good with living in a normal neighborhood rather than a designated retirement community, then the money you need to buy into Jacksonville is lower than places that advertise themselves as places to retire.


Coast

If the ocean matters to you, Jacksonville has nice beaches. They are not special, but they exist. You won’t find beaches in Orlando or The Villages. You can buy a trailer home in Central Florida for $10,000 and shoot at bottles in the woods, but you can’t go to the beach without driving half the day. Jacksonville’s only had a handful of hurricanes hit over the years, and retired folks can just drive to safety for the week when one does come around. During the work week, you can meander on the beach all day with only a few other people, since Jacksonville simply is not yet the tourist destination of other cities in Florida. The area along the river isn’t as refined as downtown river walks in other cities, but it’s also not something you’d get a chance to experience in smaller towns.


City

Near the aforementioned river walk, you’ll find art and theatre options, along with sports and museums. This is a real city with a population nearing 1 million, so there’s some culture to be had. Minor league and way off Broadway, to be sure, but a lot of it is fairly affordable. And it’s better than watching the retirement community pickleball championships. From what I can tell, the top high school football and soccer teams come from this part of the state, so you could always attend one of those games, too. You could even audit a class at one of the local colleges. Because it’s a large metro area, you’ll get decent shopping and dining options when compared to planned retirement communities.



Crime

The biggest problem I have with crime in Jacksonville is that it’s not as relegated to a certain part of town like it was in Milwaukee. The crime rate isn’t really any higher than any other large city, but even the parts of the city that feel like the suburbs experience crime. Granted, the crime on my side of town tends to be unlocked cars getting rummaged through and porch piracy. The point here is that retirees should not have to feel like it’s unsafe in their retirement community. The city is working to improve the crime numbers, mostly to get re-elected, and there are plenty of gated communities, but you still have to venture out to the Walmart parking lot every now and again. In my area of Jacksonville, it seems crime is less east of the 295 towards the Intracoastal and beaches.


Color

If you’re from a typically-segregated Rust Belt city, you will notice the difference in Jacksonville. If that bothers you, then The Villages in the whitest place in America. More than likely, some of your best friends are Black. I think that’s great. In Jacksonville, you’ll also be able to live right next door to that best best friend of color. If you’d rather just be best friends with that person on Facebook and not next door, then St. Johns or Clay might be better for you.


Care

We’ve got a Mayo Clinic here. That might be enough for some retirees. Besides that, Baptist Health has been adequate. However, it seems like our doctors have a lot of conflicts, possibly with tee times, so be prepared for rescheduled appointments. That’s not a huge deal for retired folks, I suppose. Jacksonville also spent a lot of money adding ADA sidewalks, even though there’s really no place to walk to in such a vast city.


Community

The Jim Fortuna Senior Center is in Ed Austin Park, very close to where I live. I probably have to wait a few years to use it, but the Google reviews are good. You also have all kinds of golf courses on this side of town. Some of these golf courses would be for members only, while others allow anyone to play, so check that out. Within 30 minutes of my house: Hidden Hills, Blue Sky, Queen’s Harbour, Atlantic Beach CC, Jacksonville Beach CC, Jacksonville Golf and CC, UNF Golf Complex, Glen Kernan Golf and CC, Windsor Parke, Deerwood, Pablo Creek Club, Marsh Landing CC, and someplace called TPC Sawgrass. If you don’t like golf or places with an extra “u” in harbor or an extra “e” in park, then Jacksonville has real libraries and whatnot. You can also babysit someone’s kid in your condo unit. Since it’s a real city, you can develop community rather than have a program director create it for you. Use Nextdoor or Meetup. There are plenty of real volunteer opportunities in the area that can make a real difference in the lives of your neighbors, too.


Conservatives

I know The Golden Girls was supposed to be in Miami, and there are plenty of retirees down there, but there are also all kinds of liberals in that area. If you’re a Conservative who likes to spout off at the mouth, Jacksonville is a safer place to do that than any other large city in Florida. In fact, in 2015, Jacksonville ranked as the 5th most conservative city in the nation, behind Colorado Springs, Virginia Beach, Oklahoma City, and Mesa. It’s an especially wonderful city for retired military, since we appreciate both those who serve and who have served. Wear your MAGA hat and slap an American flag sticker on your car. However, you do have to realize that there are still some liberals in Jacksonville, so it’s not a free-for-all.


Concerns

Crime is #1. Similarly, there are plenty of scammers in every part of Florida, as it’s kind of a weekend job for most Floridians. The city isn’t walkable at all. The summers are very hot. But it’s 85 degrees in February as I write this, with snow or ice in 42 of the 50 states.


Conclusion

If you’re looking to retire to an area that has all the amenities you’ve come to expect living near a large city, then in or near Jacksonville is a good choice. Transfer that residency to save on state income taxes. Home prices are rising fast, so it might be time to get in before it’s too late. Here’s a realtor who sometimes reads this blog and can help you (especially vets)--be sure to say New Jax Witty sent you. I also know two realtors from my church who can help if you contact me.

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